Congress Passes ADA Amendments Act of 2008

gavel_and_law_books_thumbThe Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), is about to undergo a major change.  The changes are thanks to the Congress’ passage of the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) (S. 3406, H.R. 3195) (originally the ADA Restoration Act of 2007). The new law, which will likely take effect January 1, 2009 will broaden the definition of “disability” so that more physical and mental impairments are covered.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (signed into law by President George H. W. Bush) was intended to “provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities.” Just as other civil rights laws prohibit entities from basing decisions on characteristics like race or sex, the ADA prevents employers from making decisions based on disability. Recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions (e.g., Sutton v. United Airlines) narrowed the definition of disability such that people with conditions such as epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, cancer, diabetes, and cerebral palsy have been determined to not meet the definition of disability under the ADA.

Election 2008 and the ADAAA

Senators Obama, Biden, and McCain are all co-sponsors of the ADAAA, (click each candidate’s name to read their individual platforms on the ADA).  For employers, the ADAAA does not bring good news.  The law will result in increased litigation, and the focus of any future dispute will shift from whether an employee has a qualifying disability to whether the employer engaged in a discriminatory act.